May 222015
 
Montblanc-moonphase-watch

Our watches will outlast the Apple watch warns Montblanc’s CEO Alexander Schmiedt in an interview with Bloomberg.

Schmeidt is basing his view on his watches’ durability, “I don’t think that customers are going to be ecstatic to throw away watches in one to two years when the technology is obsolete.”

It’s a brave call and what Schmeidt’s views risk is that standard watches may become niches items. He could be right though and Apple’s watches might prove to be toys for technologist.

The market will decide.

May 172015
 
cheap robots cleaning computers

Once again the question of what happens to the jobs of today in the face of technology is raised in a Quartz story by Zake Kanter looking at how driverless cars will lost the US economy millions of jobs over the next decade.

Zake isn’t alone in this, just one study predicts half the US police workforce could be put out of work as autonomous vehicles take to the road.

Worrying about today’s jobs is understandable as it’s clear the news won’t be good for many occupations. However the discussion should be about what roles are going to be needed in the future.

Looking back

Should we go back a hundred years there were a huge number of people, primarily young boys, employed in cleaning roads of horse dung. The equine industries provided work for tens of thousands of workers ranging from skilled blacksmiths and buggy makers through to those unskilled street sweepers.

Most of those people lost their jobs and their careers became redundant as the age of the motor vehicle took over.

Yet those displaced eventually founds jobs – as mechanics, panel beaters, traffic cops and gas station workers – although for many the dislocation was tough.

Automotive transformation

The motor car also stimulated a transformation in society as it made travel easier and wide scale logistics viable. Those changes allowed supermarkets, drive-in theatres and fast food chains to develop, all of which were unthinkable at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

Industries like fast food and the drive-in theatre were also driven by the demographic and social changes of the mid-Twentieth century as concepts like the teenager and the consumerist society were developed.

Demographics and economy

Those changes to demographics are important as well, the developed economies’ aging populations and shifting income patterns are going to determine the shape of society and the workforce even more so than technology.

For businesses and governments assuming the mid Twentieth Century consumerist economy is the future the next wave of change could be a difficult time. Even more so given that model of growth and employment was allowed to continue far beyond its natural life by the 1980s credit boom.

Credit, and banking, will be one of the challenging fields for the next decade as governments struggle with the consequences of guaranteeing institutions during the Global Financial Crisis along with the disruptions of higher frequency algorithmic trading, Big Data analytics and startups with new payments platforms.

Disruption everywhere

The disruptive effect on the banking industry by new technology will be repeated across sectors with startups and new business models challenging everyone from retailers to window cleaners, it’s not just the automotive industry that’s challenges.

While it’s difficult to predict exactly what the world is going to look like in 2025, it is clear that many industries and occupations will be struggling with a very changed world. The task for managers and business owners is to be aware of unexpected threats and opportunities.

Some of the opportunities are going to lie in studying statistics – essential in a world of big data – and learning the basics of software coding. Design is another area that is going to need many new workers.

For today’s workers, it’s more important than ever to be grabbing the skills required to be employed in the industries of the mid Twenty-First Century.

May 162015
 
ge-jet-engine

One thing that’s becoming clear in researching and writing on the Internet of Things is how three distinct strands of the concept exist due to the different needs of industry and the marketplace.

This is articulated best by Bill Ruh, the Vice President of GEs Global Software Center, who in an interview this week – which I’ll post later – suggested the IoT is best divided into the industrial internet, the enterprise internet and the consumer internet.

At the base level the consumer internet includes the bulk of startups and the devices that get most of the publicity; the Apple Watches, Nest thermostats and smart door locks.

Largely operating on a ‘best effort’ basis, consumer IoT vendors don’t guarantee service and security is often an afterthought. This is going to present a few challenges for both consumers and retailers as the inevitable problems arise.

Catering for the enterprise

The IT industry vendors are at the next level, the Enterprise internet, where companies like Microsoft, Cisco and VMWear are adapting their businesses to the cloud and Internet of Things.

At this level, which Cisco calls the Internet of Everything, the security and reliability challenges are understood and the practices of the IT and communications industry lend themselves to the widespread transmission of data from smart devices.

Similarly most of the telcos with their machine to machine (M2M) technologies fall into the enterprise internet camp.

Driving the industrial internet

While the enterprise vendors are providing robust systems, the IT industry levels of service don’t quite meet the needs of mission – and often life – critical applications found in jet engines, precision manufacturing and most industrial processes.

Providing that level of security, precision, reliability and low latency is where the industrial internet is applied. This is where the companies such as GE and the other big engineering companies come in.

At the industrial internet level it’s far harder for startups to disrupt the existing players as it requires both specialist knowledge of their industry sectors and deep pockets to provide the necessary capital for product development.

However the existing industrial conglomerates don’t have all the skills in house and that’s an opportunity for smaller companies and startups to enter the industry.

The long product times are another aspect of the industrial internet, as Rue points out, GE are still supporting equipment that is over eighty years old. While that equipment will probably never be connected to the internet, the machines being designed today will be expected to have similar lifespans.

While the three different IoTs have their own characteristics, and in many instances overlap, all three are opportunities for savvy developers and entrepreneurs.

The difficulty some businesses, both as vendors and customers, will face with the IoT is applying the wrong technology set to their problems and industry.

May 142015
 
HEXO+_ autonomous drone front view

An old saying is necessity is the mother of invention and nowhere is this shown better than walking the exhibition floor of the Internet of Things World conference in San Francisco today.

The Wallflower is a good example of this, thought up of after the founder had to rush home when his partner thought she’d left the stove on (she hadn’t), he thought there had to be something that could monitor this on the market and when he discovered there wasn’t, he invented it.

Snowboarding needs

Probably the sexiest device on the floor is the Hexo+, an autonomous drone designed for video shots. Use the app to tell you what shot you want and it the drone will take off and video you.

Hexo+ was founded by Xavier de Le Rue, a French professional snowboarder who wanted to get shots of his maneuvers but couldn’t afford a crew or a helicopter to do so. The preprogrammed flight patterns represent the most common camera sequences optimised for the GoPro camera.

Probably the most trivial is the MySwitchMate, a mechanical device that fits over a wall light switch. Set it up and you can use its app to flick your lights on and off.

The device was born out of the founder wanting to remotely control his college dorm lights from his bed. While the market seems to be those who don’t want to get out of bed, its main market are those who would like remotely controlled lights but can’t install a smart lighting system.

A niche from a need

What all three of these devices show is how a need by an inventor spurred a  product’s development, in that respect the Internet of Things is no different from any other wave of innovation.

So if you wonder “why doesn’t someone sell this?” it might be an opportunity to set up your own business or invent an IoT device to meet that need.

May 012015
 
free or cheap text books becomes important for British Columbia

When discussing how industries are changing, the constant question is ‘what will happen to today’s jobs?’

Even in the Future Proofing Your Business webinar earlier this week this question was asked by a number of the small business owning listeners.

That concern forms the basis of the “A smart move: Future-proofing Australia’s workforce by growing skills in science, technology, engineering and maths” report released by accounting firm PwC yesterday in Sydney.

PwC’s report warns 44 per cent of current Australian jobs are at high risk of being affected by computerisation and technology over the next 20 years.

The report highlights that Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects are critical in the jobs that are going to benefit, or be created, by that technological change.

Finding the right courses

Sadly for Australia, and most of the western world, STEM courses are deeply out of fashion with students preferring to study in business related courses such as accounting, commerce and law.

As PwC flag, those industries are at risk with accounting at the top of the list for job losses.

Australian-industries-expected-to-be-disrupted-pwc

On the other hand, PwC forecasts professions in health, education, personal care and – worryingly – public relations will be in increased demand. Something that may underestimate the effects of technology on those industries.

Competing with STEM

PwC’s main contention is that economies which want to compete in the new economy are going to need more STEM graduates.

The shift to STEM education is something the OECD highlighted in its recent report, OECD report How is the Global Talent Pool Changing?

In their report the organisation forecast that the number of students studying around the world would increase from 130 million today to 300 million by  2030 with all of that growth being in Chinese and Indian STEM courses.

Already that science and engineering emphasis is clear in today’s numbers.

OECD-graduates-by-field-of-education

To counter the drift away from STEM courses among students, PwC suggests a campaign to engage young people while they are still at junior school.

The Australian conundrum

Sadly, that’s unlikely to work in Australia given the nation’s economy is built upon property speculation driven by the wealth effect of rising real estate prices.

Two nights before the PwC report one of the highest rating shows on Australian television came to its 2015 finale. The Block, which features couples renovating and flipping properties, finished its season the apartments being sold at auction at record prices and the contestants pocketing between 600 and 800,000 dollars for a few month’s work.

For young Australians the message from their parents and society is clear; don’t innovate, don’t create, just buy as much property as you can afford.

In the US on the other hand, the business heroes are the builders of new enterprises; people like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and the founders of Google.

Other countries like Israel, India and China, are aspiring to be the next generation of tech leaders. That’s what’s necessary to build a dynamic economy.

Creating enduring jobs

As the PwC report claims, “the jobs most likely to endure over the next couple of decades are ones that require high levels of social intelligence, technical ability and creative intelligence”

Harnessing that combination of social, creative and technical intelligence is going to be one of the challenges for all economies in a decade of change.

Getting the supply of STEM skills right will be essential for success for all countries at a time when digital technologies will drive most industries.

Apr 302015
 
microsoft_windows_10_devices

A billion devices running Windows 10 was the promise made by Microsoft at the company’s Build Conference in San Francisco yesterday.

The ambition is based upon delivering the system on devices ranging from desktop computers down to the embedded systems on Internet of Things devices.

 

As part of the drive to get onto the IoT, Microsoft also announced Windows 10 initiatives for the makers’ community with various programs for Arduino, Raspberry Pi and Intel’s Minnowboard.

At the same time the company announced how some software will soon be able to run on iPhones and Android devices with an extended Software Developers Kit.

While this makes Windows more attractive for developers who no longer have to develop different versions for the Microsoft product, it’s also an admission the company’s phone strategy has failed.

For Microsoft yesterday’s Build Conference was the opportunity for the company to show their vision of the market’s future that involves computers, mobile devices, the cloud and the Internet of Things.

Whether Microsoft is part of that future is the main concern of CEO Satya Nadella.